MUSIC REVIEWS: El Perro Del Mar, Bassnectar, Wild Beasts, Edward Sharpe, Stereo Alligator, Vanessa Williams, Wallflowers, Amadou & Mariam

El Perro Del Mar
Love Is Not Pop
(Control Group)

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As a long-time fan of the Cocteau Twins and more currently Lykke Li, it makes a lot of sense that I would like El Perro Del Mar. Sarah Assbring is a Swedish chanteuse whose vocals are light, sweet and delicate in a lovely ethereal way. Her third album Love Is Not Pop highlights themes of relationship break-ups, love and loss, all combined in a beautiful arrangement of subtle drum beats, rhythmic bass lines, and catchy dance tunes to become a captivating album.

One notable track is the simple yet catchy, “Let Me In,” with its pulsating beats to produce a soft echoing effect. The gentle bass line and beautifully high pitched vocals make for a mesmerizing listen. Throughout the album, I especially enjoyed the well-crafted mix of varying tempos. The two opening tracks are examples of the more quicker-paced titles, while the remake of Lou Reed’s “Heavenly Arms” begins softly and gently, rising to a more upbeat tempo, creating some contrast and movement in the song. The tone then switches significantly with “Better Love,” a more sentimental piece, consisting primarily of vocals and a slightly perceptible drum beat, sounding at times beautifully experimental and heart achingly melancholic.

Overall, I think this a great album. It seems to reach every mood possible. The album certainly carries hints of Scandinavian influences making it both dreamy and alluring. Love Is Not Pop is a subtle, yet impactful album, taking listeners on an emotional journey of both great highs and lows. A highly recommended album for fans of Heaven or Las Vegas.

Trish Nguyen

Cozza Frenzy
(Child’s Play)

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Lorin Ashton otherwise known as Bassnectar is a Cali-collective of sorts. A collection of collaborations that fuses the musical styles of dubstep, hiphop, house, ambient, and whatever else flips his fancy. Off the cusp of his summer leak “Land of the Lupes,” Lorin segues into Cozza Frenzy – a 15-track, grimey mishmash of hiphop, electro, break beats and rhymes. In stores October 27, available for download since September 29, Cozza Frenzy toys with its listeners, hyping us up at some points, while relaxing us at others. “West Coast Lo-Fi Rides Again” is loopy, asymmetrical beats and basslines at its best; while “Window Seat” morphs from ambient sounds to a kid’s laughter onto a head-nodding punch. Though “Backpack Rehab” featuring downtempo-label mates Cates and DPL isn’t totally dubstep, it does a mighty fine job. Cozza Frenzy is an eclectic jaunt.

As “Teleport Massive” featuring Zumbi from the hiphop duo ZION I does a wicked mix of rhymes and basslines; “Boombox (Bassnectar and Ill Gates Remix)” gives a lo-fi blend of wobble and static that boast lines like “Blast out speakers / I am the seeker.” But true to form, this remix DJ and producer has two versions of the title track (as well as “Boombox”): one for the microphone fiends showcasing emcee Seasunz, and another for the bass heads. Usually when it comes to dubstep, I’m the sit-in-my-chair-head-nodding type. After all, it is dark, digitally-enhanced bass, so what else is there to do?? However, with Bassnectar, I find myself rocking out in mirrors and grocery store aisles. For me, that’s says a helluva lot.

ND McCray

Wild Beasts
Two Dancers
(Domino Records)

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The foundational rock driven song structures set in hypnotic motion by a masterfully wicked outfit further enhanced by heaven-ranged vocals is the Wild Beasts’ signature move and it works every time. High likeability along with a super surround sound and musically rich palate of bursting instrumentation continues to move terrifically forward as vintage as really good wine and as new as the bubbly longed for breath of the future. A crispy clean ever-churning progressive style and lead singer Hayden Thorpe’s awesome falsetto has created a phenomenally engaging album. Hailing from Kendal, England, the Wild Beasts have been crafting their unique harmonious delivery since 2002. Lyrically as stealth as punk and as emotional as emo, the dazed off, subtle post rock assault comes across as sexy, charming and enjoyable. “Hooting & Howling” begins with an operatic wave of Thorpe’s voice walking alongside soft piano and a driving lone bass line. Soon the song foams over into a fuzzy pop anthem full of a giddy guitar riff and rhythm only perfect for mindless mirror dancing. With a heady yet visceral understanding of what makes music unforgettable and fun, sonic tonality and distinctively coveted vocals that do more to turn-on than turn-off, Two Dancers puts audio fiends and true music aficionados in aural paradise.

Chanda Jones

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Up From Below

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It seems Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros occupies the other side of the coin that The Arcade Fire does. They both have unusually large line-ups and use a wide range of instruments to play mellow but catchy indie rock. Even the vocals of both bands often sound remarkably similar. These similarities are marked by some major differences though. I would call Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros the antithesis of The Arcade Fire. While they sound very alike, The Arcade Fire are a fairly dark, somber band and the Magnetic Zeros are, well, the exact opposite. They have the vibe of a hippie commune with no trouble finding an occasion to throw a celebration. That’s not to say they shy away from minor keys. But even moodier musical numbers like “Home” have positive affirming lyrics. It is the upbeat songs that shine brightest though. Songs like “40 Day Dream” and “Janglin” are where the band sounds like they are having the most fun and therefore they are the most fun to listen to.

While they may be opposites of The Arcade Fire, it doesn’t make them equals. Up from Below has its moments but not enough of them. The band does seem to have a vision for their album but too many of these songs collapse under the weight of their own self-importance. Ultimately their bright, sunny, California rock leaves me cold. They need to put less emphasis on mood and think more about just writing songs that are enjoyable to listen to. If they are just trying to be upbeat hippies, then they are succeeding, but there is something to be said for craft. You can only run so far on positive vibes alone.

Jonathan Zuckerman

Stereo Alligator
Stereo Alligator EP
(Stereo Alligator)

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Stereo Alligator’s self-titled EP release launches with a heavy electronic beat on “Blow Away” that makes it hard to not dance where you are. That strong, driving beat we have come to expect from electronic music is present through most of the album, but at no time does it dominate the sound or become distracting. The duo that is Stereo Alligator hit a home run on this one.

The first three tracks showcase the bands driven enthusiasm. They are high energy tracks that make you want to dance through the soles of your shoes. The album flows well, keeping you moving up to the fourth track, “Ruin,” where they give you a chance to relax. This track on it’s own would be great for when you are trying to relax and de-stress. “Ruin” let’s you rest (it’s the longest track at 5:27) long enough to slide off into the closing track, “Lifting Up.”

Stereo Alligator deftly avoids two attributes I have found to be a problem with a lot of electronic music: too heavy a beat and too repetitive. I am normally not a huge fan of the genre, but this Portuguese pair will have me on the watch for their next album.

Jonathon L. Miller

Vanessa Williams
The Real Thing

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Vanessa Williams says of her new CD, The Real Thing, “my initial musical direction for this Concord CD kept morphing from Brazilian … to torch songs, big band and R&B.” and though I’m not sure she ambles through all these genres, this 11-song CD is pretty much what you’d expect from a singer like Willaims, especially when she has enlisted four different producers ‘stacking the deck’ for hits.

From the first track “Breathless” with its fantastically-played acoustic guitar, the Burt Bacharach -like “Hello Like Before” to the big band take on “Loving You,” to the pretty-damn grooving “Just Friends” (one of my faves here and thankfully one of the few tunes not over-produced), Miss Williams does the best with what she has.

Orchestration is used to nice lush effect on Streisand’s “Lazy Afternoon” another one of the better examples of V.M.’s vocal and again we’re into a nice groove on “Close To You” (though by seven songs in we’re mining pretty much the same lyrical territory). Miss Williams’ duet with Javier Colon is nice, “Come On Strong” features some good upright bass with piano (like “Just Friends,” the simple horns/drums/bass/piano set-up behind Miss Williams works best here I think).

Is The Real Thing the real thing? It’s certainly perfectly played, slightly over-produced, but nice enough.

Ralph Greco, Jr.

Collected: 1996-2005
(Interscope Records)

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Unlike many who follow in their parent’s footsteps in terms of a career, Jakob Dylan has managed to stay out of his father’s shadow, while achieving humble success within his own band, The Wallflowers. Collected is one of the more accurate “greatest hits” collections that I’ve seen in a long time, as it literally strips the hit songs from all four albums (minus the often-forgotten debut) and puts them in sequential order.

The album opens up with five tracks from 1996’s Bringing Down the Horse.
“Three Marlenas,” “The Difference” and “Invisible City” may have been minor radio hits, but they still contributed highly to making this album one of the decade’s best.

And like Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” did in the same year, “One Headlight” gave The Wallflowers a glimpse of commercial success, while it overshadowed some of the albums shining moments. One of these can be found in the album’s first single, “6th Avenue Heartache,” which is perhaps one of the most beautifully-written yet underrated songs of the nineties. Besides having Mike Campbell (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) and Adam Duritz (Counting Crows) contribute to the song, Dylan himself shines through his vocals and lyrics, which of course resemble poetry more than lyrics themselves.

“Letters From the Wasteland,” “Hand Me Down,” Sleepwalker” and “I’ve Been Delivered” are all well-written blues/rock songs from 2000’s Breach, while “Closer to You” is my favorite of the three tracks chosen from 2002’s Red Letter Days.

Collected closes up with two songs from 2005’s Rebel, Sweetheart, “The Beautiful Side of Somewhere” and “God Says Nothing Back,” along with the unreleased, “Eat You Sleeping.”

While the band could’ve witnessed mainstream success beyond “One Headlight,” their laid-back approach towards the music industry is most likely what kept their songs creatively modest yet tangible. One can easily hear the band’s sound transform between albums, and for that reason I think any Wallflowers fan will appreciate this assortment of music.

Lucy Tonic

Amadou & Mariam
The Magic Couple
(Wrasse Records)

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Amadou and Mariam’s new album is energetic and synonymous to the history of who these artists are, what they mean to each other and who they are to us. The dance friendly rhythmic pop and afrobeat leanings of Amadou’s mastery of bluesy electric guitar is elevated by explosive jazz strumming and could stand as an album all by itself but would not be as dynamic without the furtive voice of wife, Mariam, whose voice moves with a pure elegance conducive to that of a perfect storyteller. The backing band lends a heavy hand in helping to build this onslaught of groove heavy organic sounds and raw sides of up-tempo tracks that push this album to the forefront. The element that makes The Magic Couple soar is its ability to relay the dynamic story of both lives into an album that consists of songs this couple has released from three of their earlier albums. With a luscious West African appeal fused with aspects of many different cultures, at times India and Asian, the album is boldly alluring, bright, charming and upbeat. Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met at the Institute of the Young Blind of Bamako in Mali and the funky palpability of their music festers in a smoky soul fueled hypnotic beat that is both enthralling and insatiable. Having married in the 80’s, their music has gone on to attract major worldwide appreciation. They have toured with Coldplay and the Scissor Sisters and opened for Blur. The Magic Couple contains a sound that connects with the deepness of soul music, moves with the restless quality of jazz and is as breathtaking and as moving as the universe itself.

Chanda Jones

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